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February 12, 2013
The European Lead Factory
That's what they're calling this new initiative, so points for bravery. I wrote about this proposal here last year, and now more details have emerged. The good news is that the former Merck facilities (well, Organon via Schering-Plough) in Newhouse (Scotland) and Oss (the Netherlands) will be part of the effort, so those will be put to some good use.
". . . the consortium consists of 30 academic and corporate partners, and aims to fill company pipelines with promising drug candidates. . .the initiative will build and curate a collection of 500,000 molecules for screening, 300,000 of which will come from the seven large pharmaceutical partners. The rest (are) intended to cover classes of biologically active molecule that are poorly represented in current libraries. . .Starting this July or August, the pharmaceutical partners will be able to use the library — including molecules from their competitors — in their own drug screens. Any academic group or company can also propose assays to test molecules in the library for biological activity."
Interestingly, both the compounds and the assay results will be proprietary (first refusal) for the people/organizations requesting them. The plan is for the whole thing to pay for itself through milestone payments and screening-for-hire for groups that are not part of the consortium. That's a worthy goal, but it's going to be complicated. One thing you can bet on is that the compounds in the collection themselves will not be the eventual ones that head to the clinic, so you get a "ship of Theseus" problem when you try to decide what belongs to whom (and at what point it started belonging). Note that the NIH's Molecular Libraries Program, by contrast, is made up of nonproprietary compounds, which were always assumed to be just starting points. (It's been having its own problems, too - many of the starting-point compounds, it seems, were - at least at first - probably never going to be starting points for anyone, so there still will not have been a clean head-to-head comparison between these two models).
And that brings up another difficulty with figuring out how things are going. I can certainly see why the results from the ELF will be proprietary, but that means that it may be some time before we can figure out whether it's providing anything worthwhile. The people running it will presumably have a better view.
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